Monday 19 February 2018

Feast and famine all in one

Galway's Cyril Donnellan controls the ball under pressure from Johnny Campbell and Paul Shiels of Antrim during their All-Ireland SHC qualifier
Galway's Cyril Donnellan controls the ball under pressure from Johnny Campbell and Paul Shiels of Antrim during their All-Ireland SHC qualifier

All-Ireland SHC Qualifiers

FOR a while in the first half, a fleeting and dream-like spell, Antrim hurled and Galway watched, a little miffed no doubt. The Ulster champions scored 1-3 without response and, having been six points down, audaciously, they drew level.

The crowd, modest in proportion, a who's who of diehards, found some voice. Half-time beckoned. By the time it arrived, they had fallen eight points behind, with the sinking realisation that the worst was yet to come.

And so it did in all its macabre certainty. Galway went to town and Antrim hurling was driven further into submission, left with the familiar feelings of isolation, cut off from the game's universe and decidedly unloved. They hit two points in the second half; Galway dined out on 4-8. We had a feast and a famine all in one.

It is hardly necessary to begin sermonising about the hopelessness of the exercise. Galway have a week to prepare for a Laois team in disarray before the heat rises in the qualifiers. They'll have learned little. Antrim aren't done yet. They must face the real possibility of more humiliation and disservice to their efforts when they encounter Waterford on the same day.

Their cause wasn't helped by the loss of Liam Watson, their best forward, who had missed too much training to be considered for selection, according to reports. Watson would have made little difference though. Galway, aside from that period in the first half when they allowed Antrim back in, were vastly superior and indulged themselves by changing their goalkeeper in the final 10 minutes.

Antrim went with a two-man inside forward line, withdrawing Paul Shiels to provide added cover around the middle of the field, but instead Damien Joyce, his marker, helped himself to a point and hit a lot of early ball. Fergal Healy put on a masterful exhibition of first-time striking and despite some possible misgivings about the selection, David Forde hurled well at left half-back. There will be tougher tests than this of course.

Eugene Cloonan's return, in the absence of injured league top scorer Ger Farragher, didn't bring a bumper day for the player who arrived as a teenage prodigy 11 years ago. He was moved out of full-forward, had a goal chance hooked by Aaron Graffin, one of Antrim's best players, and in the second half he had to leave injured following an incident which led to the dismissal of Michael McCambridge.

The bulk of the Galway scoring was done by Joe Canning, Cloonan's successor, managing a tidy 2-6, as he finally made his championship debut after a massive amount of hype and expectation. Canning hurls beyond his years. When they needed a leader, he was there, driving home a 20-metre free to give Galway their first goal on the half hour which restored a lead they would never again relinquish. A couple of minutes later he rounded his man and drove a fierce shot into the home goal from a narrow angle.

Any prospect of Galway being detained was ended 20 seconds into the second half when Canning set up Damien Hayes for a third goal. Galway had the breeze and Kerins' score squeezed virtually all remaining suspense out of the match.

Alan Kerins scored a fourth goal in the 56th minute and in the final stretch Kerril Wade came on to add two of his own.

The day was showery but the pitch held up well, an excellent surface for hurling. In the opening half, Donal McNaughton converted four frees during Antrim's best spell, while Michael Magill claimed the goal -- a fine whipped stroke after efforts by Eddie McCloskey and Paddy Richmond were foiled by Galway defending.

The game marked the return of Ollie Canning and Fergal Moore was chosen at full-back, a problem position.

Scorers -- Galway: J Canning 2-6 (1-2fs); K Wade 2-0; D Hayes 1-2; A Kerins 1-1; I Tannian 0-3; A Cullinane, F Healy, C Donnellan, E Cloonan 0-2 each; D Joyce 0-1. Antrim: D McNaughton 0-4f; M Magill 1-0; K McKeegan (1f), M Herron, K Stewart 0-2 each.

Galway: J Skehill; D Joyce, F Moore, O Canning; S Kavanagh, J Lee, D Forde; A Cullinane, F Healy; D Hayes, A Kerins, C Donnellan; A Tannian, E Cloonan, J Canning. Subs: N Healy for Forde (42); A Callinan for Tannian (50); K Wade for Cloonan (55); C Callanan for Skehill (59); M Kerins for Donnellan (63).

Antrim: R McGarry; A McGraffin, J McKeague, M Kettle; C Herron, C Donnelly, J Campbell; E McCloskey, K McKeegan; D McNaughton, K Stewart, M Magill; M Herron, P Richmond, P Shiels. Subs: M McCambridge for Kettle (ht); PJ O'Connell for McNaughton (53); S McNaughton for Stewart (58); S McRory for Magill (63).

Referee: J Ryan (Tipperary).

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